Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Experimentation with Brine

I started reading this book last week called, "Salt - A World History" by Mark Kurlansky. I'm having a good time reading it. I enjoy reading food history books. This is pretty normal for me though – I enjoy reading any kind of history book. There is a passage in it on brining vegetables to give them more flavor. It says:

Fill the jar two-thirds with brine. Add whatever vegetables you like and whatever spice you like, cover, and the vegetables are ready in two days.

Oh really…? My curiosity was immediately piqued. I've always been interested in pickling things and I was interested to see if this simple brine would open up a wonderful new world of food for me. I knew that I had to do a small scale experiment first to be safe. Many things can go wrong with something like this, the least of which is you don't like how the results taste. I decided to use a little bit of brine and one romaine lettuce plant from our garden (still going strong!).
I had a tough time finding a brine recipe for vegetables – most of the recipes that you find are for meat brines. After a bit of searching and cross-referencing, I concluded that you basically salt to taste. A common ratio of salt to water that I found was three tablespoons per gallon of water, so I used that as my recipe. No spices or anything this first time though. I just wanted the basic recipe.

I stuck the brine and lettuce in a large jar, then placed a bowl over the lettuce to keep it completely submerged. You can’t let your food become exposed to air, otherwise it rots. That’s the general rule for pickling/brining, but given the short timeline for this process, it probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal.

After two fun days of waiting, I ate the lettuce. The results were decidedly, "Meh, nothing special." Oh well.

Here are some of my thoughts on this experiment. Brining the vegetables counteracts the bitterness in them, which I figure makes it a substitute for salad dressing. If you are poor on salad dressing, you can do this. The lettuce was still crispy, which was very nice. For a more flavorful brine, the book suggests adding peppers, like hot chili ones, or ginger into the mix. I would definitely recommend this. If you don't have those ingredients, then a different spice will do. I thought that mace, cloves, or fennel might be nice.

I still have the brine saved and I plan on trying this with other veggies soon. I definitely think that I can make it work, but it wasn’t the groundbreaking recipe I was hoping for.

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